Data Attributes for Keyboard Shortcuts

With a little help from JavaScript, you can add a data attribute to any HTML element to instantly assign a shortcut key.

Assigning keyboard shortcuts on the web could be as simple as adding an HTML attribute onto an element and setting its value. Even though browsers are unlikely to support this approach natively, you’re still able to define shortcut keys in your markup by using data attributes and a touch of JavaScript.

<button data-shortcut='s'>Do Something</button>

I think that’s pretty intuitive. Think about all the common use cases:

  • Clicking a button
  • Following a link
  • Focusing a form input

Other than scrolling past copy on code-related blog posts, these three things make up most of the interactions on the web. Using data attributes can give you an expressive, reusable syntax for assigning keyboard shortcuts to each of these use cases.

Let’s go over how it works.

Set up dependencies

Before getting started, you’ll need to grab jQuery and jQuery Hotkeys, and link them up in your project. You can get by on your own without either library, but including them both helps simplify the code we’ll cover down below.

Using Bower, you can download a copy of each library by entering the following shell command:

bower install jquery jquery.hotkeys --save

Write some JavaScript

Remember our three use cases? Well, in JavaScript, they translate into the following behaviors:

  • Triggering a click event
  • Changing window.location
  • Giving focus to an element

With jQuery Hotkeys set up in your project, write a $(document).ready() call that contains the following JavaScript:

$('[data-shortcut]').each(function() {
  var $element = $(this),
      key = $'shortcut');

  $(document).on('keyup', null, String(key), function() {

    if ($element.prop('tagName').toLowerCase() === 'a') {
      window.location = element.attr('href');

This code will loop through every HTML element that has a [data-shortcut] attribute and attach the keyboard shortcut’s event handler. Now when you press an assigned key, the keyup event will trigger both click and focus events on its related DOM element. Additionally, if the element is an <a> tag, your browser will follow the link provided by the element’s href attribute.

Assign your shortcuts

Your JavaScript is up and running, so you can finally start assigning keyboard shortcuts in your markup! Find an <a>, <button>, or <input> tag that could use a shortcut, and add a data-shortcut attribute with the intended key as its value.

<a href='' data-shortcut='e'>Edit</a>

If you want to assign a keyboard shortcut that requires pressing two or more keys at once, you’ll need to use the syntax that jQuery Hotkeys provides. The jQuery Hotkeys example page has even more key combinations.

<a href='/index.html' data-shortcut='shift+1'>

<button data-shortcut='alt+m'>Menu</button>

<input type='submit' data-shortcut='ctrl+alt+enter'>

And that’s it — you’ve set up everything you need to start assigning keyboard shortcuts in your markup. Now go forth and empower efficiency.